About Me

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Lansing, Michigan, United States
I am a Lansing townie, lawyer, and restaurant reviewer for the City Pulse. I love traveling, reading, yoga, and baking, but my favorite hobby is stuffing my face.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Weekend Eats

Last weekend I made bran muffins. I took the recipe from the bag of Bob's Red Mill Wheat Bran in my cupboard and added a few things, to make them into certified health bombs:

1 cup of wheat bran
1.5 cups whole wheat flour (I had whole wheat pastry flour, so I used that.)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup milk (I used skim.)
1/2 cup molasses or honey (I combined these because I was running out of both of them- it was about 1/2 blackstrap molasses and 1/2 honey, and I fell a little short of the 1/2 cup. No big deal.)
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 tbs oil
2 eggs, beaten

I also added a tbs of whole flax seeds, 1/2 tbs of cinnamon, and a good shake of ginger. I think I would add more cinnamon (because I love it.

Combine wheat bran, flour, baking soda and baking powder. 
In a separate bowl blend applesauce, milk, molasses, oil and egg. Add to dry ingredients and stir just until moistened.
Spoon into greased muffin tin (or paper muffin cups) and bake for 12-15 minutes at 400. 

This morning I ripped the top off one of them, smeared peanut butter onto the bottom, then put the top back on. Halfway into my commute I started eating, because I needed my coffee to cool off so I could enjoy the two of them simultaneously. These are super healthy and Lent-compliant for those of us who gave up added sugar.

On Saturday night I went to have dinner with my hugely pregnant friend. She made chicken chili and I brought fruit salad. I like to fancy my fruit up with a little pomegranate seed, a little drizzle of olive oil, and the lightest pinch of Maldon sea salt. Trust me.

On Sunday afternoon I had a meeting with a Junior League friend at Schuler's. I was starved and ordered the grilled cheese and tomato soup special. The sandwich bread was great. The soup was blech.

Saturday lunch was at Meat with my favorite cousin. The food was incredible, which I expected after my last visit. I had the sandwich special, brisket, blue cheese, and buffalo sauce. The hot garlic sauce has been taken down a notch so I was able to squirt it onto every bite I took. I was thrilled that they hadn't run out of the potato salad, but disappointed that the potatoes seemed to be just short of fully cooked. Al dente potatoes aren't good.

We both demolished our plates. But the services, THE SERVICE, was atrocious. We ordered, then we waited 40 minutes. Everyone around us, including much larger parties who had been seated after us, were eating as we were still waiting. The waitress was actively avoiding me until I flagged her down, looked at my watch, and gave her the universal shrug with hands in the air that means "what the hell is going on here." She said "I'll check with the cook" and returned immediately with our food, which had obviously been sitting. No apology. Not a word from her. No refill on my one glass of water during the 1.25 hours we were there, either.

Furthermore, she never brought a check to our table. When I finally approached the counter, she slapped the bill down without asking me how I wanted it- together? separate? I slid it back across the counter and asked her to divvy it up, but you would have thought I asked her to lick the bottom of my shoe.

I have her a $1 tip. I. Was. PISSED. The food at Meat is out of this world, but if I'm ever treated that way again, I will never go back. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Pizzeria Biga

My father grew up in Kalamazoo, the eldest of 13 big-headed, dark-haired, Black Irish Johnsons. Grandpa worked as a plumber for years and to this day maintains an office in the basement of my grandparents' ranch house in Kalamazoo, where he sits among his painstakingly-maintained daily journals, meticulous photo albums, and his ever-present shrine to the Virgin Mary. What he actually does in that office is a mystery to us. I've got my suspicions that he sits down there when Grandma discusses politics, which is frequent, and not his cup of tea.

With all of those kids running around, food wasn't the focus in the Johnson house. I imagine that dinners consisted of a good amount of typical American fare- meatloaf, potatoes, bread. Jello desserts. Corn Flakes for breakfast. Mom, a native of Northern Michigan and the daughter of a hunter, tells the story about when she first prepared venison for Dad. "What is this?" he asked, slowly chewing, eyeing my older sister who was old enough to understand. "Is this B-A-M-B-I?"

"No," said Mom. "It's his mother."

Until the very recent demise of their marriage, Dad hitched his cart to her wagon and let her dictate much of the food in our house as I grew up. Vietnamese rice, cuts of meat that came from animal parts that weren't mentioned in mixed company, kohlrabi and Swiss chard and wheatberries and fish. Mom's mom was a serious gourmet cook and she passed those skills right on down the line.

Other arms of the Johnson family, specifically a few of my cousins with whom I am close, didn't end up with such varied palates. My cousin Robbie lives in Royal Oak, close to my office, and on nights when I don't have to be back in Lansing for book club or Junior League or some other plan, I take advantage of his hospitality and his couch. In return, I try my best to lure him to stick just a toe into my way of eating.

I knew I wouldn't get him with the kale and sardine salad, but I thought I could whip up an easy, healthy dinner that he would eat and like. Roasted chicken, brown rice, corn, and broccoli emerged from his never-before-used kitchen, although the broccoli remained on his plate.

One Sunday evening I decided to pack myself up and head to Robbie's for the night, and told him that I would pick up pizza on the way. The plan was set and I placed my order on the Pizzeria Biga website. For our dinner I chose the Prosciutto di Parma white pizza and the Bacco Sausage pizza. I assured Robbie that there were no "weird ingredients" on either pizza. I'm not sure he was convinced.

I told him the prosciutto was ham, which, technically, it is. Just a very thinly-sliced, expensive, extraordinarily delicious ham. This pizza could have benefited from a little garlic rub and drizzle of olive oil, but the coupling of arugula and prosciutto leads me to forgive even the largest of sins.

Something on the Bacco Sausage was HOT. I like my spice, but this burned my lips off. I couldn't put my finger on where it was coming from- something in the sauce? The peppers themselves? In any case, it was too much for me.

My criticisms are nit-picks. Both pizzas were remarkable and Biga prides itself on using no preservatives or sugar in their crust, something I can support. If ever Robbie lets me choose again, I'll stick with Pizzeria Biga.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Last year, I gave up popcorn for Lent. It was torture.

This year, I figured I would do the same thing. But last weekend I went to Kalamazoo and attended mass with my grandparents, both of whom have a very beautiful, very strong faith. I asked my 92-year-old grandpa what he would give up this year, and he said that he had decided to give up candy. The doctor had told Grandpa that he was "working towards" a sugar problem, and Grandpa wanted to tackle the problem organically as opposed to taking medication.

I started thinking- candy is a good thing to give up. But I don't eat a lot of candy, per se. What I do eat is a lot of sugar. As a matter of fact, I eat sugar everyday. I keep dark chocolate on my desk and every afternoon I chop it up, add it to Greek yogurt, and peel a few clementines to top everything off. Every weekend I bake. Every Sunday I have a donut.

I've decided that this year I will give up sugar.

I'm anticipating that this will be a very challenging Lent for me. I gave myself permission to relax the normal weekday eating restrictions during the few days pre-Ash Wednesday and I went insane.

Monday morning, I stopped at The Donut Cutter in Royal Oak and had a buttermilk donut. Without exaggeration, this was the best donut I have ever had. It melted in my mouth. I couldn't really believe what I was eating. It was delicious and I will think about this little baby every day until Easter.

Monday afternoon, I ate a salad for lunch. But I also ate this.

A little chocolate mousse tart. I actually scraped out the filling and ate that, as I was on hold with a bank and contemplating how I will ever get through life once I become diabetic.

Fat Tuesday dawned cold and gluttonous. I went to the gym and ran two miles, then I went home and baked a quick two dozen chocolate chip cookies from dough I had frozen last week. Then I went to Troppo for the Truscott Rossman Packzi Party. I ate, and ate, and ate, then packed a to-go box.

I know, I'm a pig. I was eating sugar like I'm going to the electric chair. But I figure that, aside from giving up coffee, quitting sugar is the most difficult thing I could do. And it's only until March 31, at which point I will eat an entire one dozen buttermilk donuts by myself.

Send prayers.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A birthday at Dusty's

My girlfriend Rosie, an Okemos townie, is engaged to a man named Bill, a serious Grand Ledge townie.  A few weeks ago I mentioned my article in City Pulse to him, and he paused for a moment while he muttered to himself " 'City Pulse' comes out on Wednesday, 'What's On' comes on Thursday, 'Noise' isn't published anymore."

You have to be a pretty serious hometown hero to even understand what I'm talking about.

Bill's birthday was last week, and Rosie, in typical Rosie fashion, waited until the evening of to send out a text, asking some of us friends if we had dinner plans. She was able to get a reservation at Dusty's in Okemos, and we met there to celebrate Billy Goat's birthday.

We started with the Seafood Sampler and fought over the best thing on the platter (and maybe on the entire menu), the coconut shrimp. We ripped up the rolls and used them to soak up the avocado/cilantro sauce coating the bottom of the plate. Our waiter, who was very knowledgeable but who remained nameless, offered a ribeye special that tickled my fancy. 

But I started with a chopped salad, sans olives. 

This is a great salad. It's a BIG salad, everything is fresh and tastes how it looks (that is to say that you don't bite into a cherry tomato and taste nothing. You actually taste tomato.) I love a crumbled hard-boiled egg, I do.

The ribeye came out next, with sauteed vegetables and one of those ridiculous edible orchids. 

There were also cheddar mashed potatoes under the steak. I'm not the world's biggest mashed potato lover, and after I took one bite of these I ignored the rest of them.

I ate half the steak and took the rest home in a box, which I ate the next day over arugula with a very mustardy vinaigrette. Another girlfriend and I chose a dessert to split, and after the waiter guided us away from the chocolate lava cake, which I appreciated, he recommended the lemon cheesecake. 

That is a layer of orange Jello atop the cheesecake. I'm not kidding. Orange. Jello. 

Here is precisely where Dusty's lost me. This cheesecake looked good. It looked like it should taste good. It's amazing to me how often I'm able to look at something that's beautiful and punk myself into thinking that it is delicious. This time I didn't fall for myself- this tasted like nothing. There was no flavor whatsoever. We each ate a couple of bites of it and then turned our attention to the Key Lime pie, which actually tasted like limes. 

The quality of the food at Dusty's is evident. The place wouldn't remain so popular and packed to the gills on most nights if the food wasn't pretty good. But that's what it is- pretty good. It's not great. It's not the best meal I had all week, it wasn't even the best steak I had all week. But it was pretty good, and the company was excellent. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Knight Cap for City Pulse

Read my love letter to this Lansing institution here.

Oh, and here's the two-pound steak.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Club Sandwiches, Clementines, and Cake

I can't stop going to Tavern 109. The last time we started with calamari, which was presented in a way I've not seen before. It was gluten-free, which I don't care about but I know other people do, and which means that there wasn't a lot of heavy breading. The pieces of calamari were huge and it was tossed in a white wine sauce. I could make a meal of this and a nice little side salad.

Instead, I also ordered the world's biggest club sandwich and fries. It too some maneuvering to fit this in my mouth. I ate it for lunch for another two days (and, I should point out, I like a hearty lunch. To the point that my coworkers might be a little horrified.)

I love citrus fruits. All of 'em. A bag of clementines sits on my desk and I eat them all day long. One of my favorite snacks is to peel a few clementines, add them to a little fat-free plain Greek yogurt, then chop up a little dark chocolate and drizzle everything with olive oil.

My snacks are over the top.

When I manage to peel a clementine in one piece, I feel like I have really accomplished something.

A few weeks ago I celebrated the birthdays of two of my close friends. I made the cakes. On the right is a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, covered in rainbow sprinkles in an homage to the birthday boy's status as one of my #1 Gays. 

On the left is my bff's birthday cake. She has a real thing for chocolate and, although she claims to "not like" cream cheese frosting, every time I give her this chocolate cream cheese frosting she spoons it into her mouth and professes "this frosting is the whip."

She seriously says that.

And then I go to her house and take iPhone pictures of the two of us at her wedding, because she won't send me any of the pictures. I'm still hoping for my 30-year growth spurt.